TILBURY, United Kingdom (AFP) - One man was found dead and 34 others still alive in a shipping container on Saturday after staff at a British port heard banging and screaming coming from inside.
The men, women and children, all believed to be from the Indian subcontinent, were discovered inside the container at Tilbury Docks, east of London, on a ship that came from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge.
All the survivors were taken to nearby hospitals; two were in a serious but not life-threatening condition, while the others were suffering from dehydration and hypothermia.
Cases of immigrants trying to enter Britain illegally, often in dangerous circumstances, are not rare.
The local police have vowed to bring to justice anyone involved in putting the people in the container, whilst the local lawmaker said the authorities needed to understand what was motivating people to go to such lengths to reach Britain.
Because a body was found, Essex Police has launched a homicide investigation.
Of 64 containers aboard the P and O ship that arrived early on Saturday, the police have opened 30 so far to check for any other people.
"Staff here at the port became aware of screaming and banging coming from a container," police superintendent Trevor Roe told reporters.
"As a result of that noise, staff were alerted and immediately breached the container to find 35 persons within that unit.
"We believe them to come from the Indian subcontinent."
Mr Roe revealed that the survivors were recovering "fairly quickly in most cases" at nearby hospitals.
P and O Ferries said the container arrived on the quay in Zeebrugge around an hour before it was loaded onto the ferry. Two hours later, the ship began the eight-hour overnight crossing. The people were discovered on the ship's arrival in Tilbury.
The company's spokesman Natalie Hardy said the commercial ferry was carrying 64 containers, 72 trailers and five trucks and drivers.
The dead man was pronounced deceased at the scene by emergency medics in Tilbury.
"It is a homicide investigation from the police point of view," Mr Roe said, though there is no suggestion anyone inside the container was a suspect.
He added: "This is a humanitarian issue and the welfare of these patients is a priority."
Officials have faced a language barrier in their efforts to communicate with the survivors.
Mr Roe said once the survivors are fit and well they will be formally interviewed through interpreters.
He said the police investigation would look into "the gangs or whoever may be involved in this conspiracy to bring these people in this way over to this country".
"Clearly we need to try to bring them to justice."
Mr Stephen Metcalfe, the local member of Parliament, said the incident was "tragic".
"The fact that so many people appear to have travelled so far and are so desperate to get into the UK - either on their own or being trafficked - is really very sad," he told the BBC.
He said it was important "to get to the root causes of what is motivating people to go to such extreme lengths to travel from other parts of the world to get into the UK" and combat people-trafficking.
The BBC quoted the UK Border Force as saying that in the year 2012-2013, more than 11,000 attempts to cross the English Channel illegally were prevented at "juxtaposed controls".
In 2000, 58 Chinese illegal immigrants suffocated to death after the air vent to their sealed container on a truck was closed on their way to the southern English port of Dover.
In July last year, the British police arrested two people after 15 asylum seekers were found hidden in a tanker on board a ferry at Dover.
Earlier this month, 16 men, all thought to be from Ethiopia, were found in a refrigerated unit in a truck outside London. They were arrested on suspicion of entering the country illegally.
And in June, eight suspected illegal immigrants, all Afghan nationals, were rescued from the English Channel when their small boat lost power.